Our Opinion: Ice not strong enough for snowmobiles

For those who love winter activities, this past week or so has been quite a boon.

The ski resorts are absolutely giddy as tourists flock to northern New England in droves and last year's non-existent winter becomes a distant memory. The back-to-back snowstorms have been especially welcoming for snowmobilers, who have to rely on Mother Nature to keep the trails packed with white gold.

Anyone who has ever experienced the exhilaration of swishing down the slopes or buzzing through the forest trails can appreciate the draw these sports have for thrill-seekers. However, this past weekend serves as a stark reminder of the many risks that come with such thrilling adventures, with several fatalities reported in Vermont and New Hampshire.

On Tuesday, Vermont State Police were still searching for two missing snowmobilers who were thought to have fallen through the ice on Lake Champlain. The two men reportedly left Benson Village on Thursday evening and never returned. Search teams found their snowmobiles in the water on Sunday morning near the New York shore.

Police say there are no signs the men made it ashore. Both are experienced snowmobilers and were familiar with the lake.

In a separate incident, Vermont State Police say a man suffered a severe leg injury when he was hit by a snowmobile in Pownal over the weekend. Police say the man was riding a snowmobile on Saturday night when he stopped and got off the vehicle. He wasn't wearing reflective clothing and was subsequently struck by another snowmobile.

There were also two separate incidents of snowmobiles falling through the ice at New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee on Saturday. In the first incident, three men in their 60s where riding snowmobiles on the lake when the sleds, each weighing hundreds of pounds, entered open water. Only one of the men survived.

Later that same day, a 48-year-old man and his 15-year-old son were riding snowmobiles on Lake Winnipesaukee when both machines broke through the ice. The father was located and transported to the hospital for treatment, but his son died. His body wasn't discovered until the next morning.

According to Snowtracks.com, a website for snowmobile enthusiasts, drowning is one of the leading causes of snowmobile fatalities. Ice conditions are variable, constantly changing due to weather and water. In fact, ice conditions can change in a period of several hours, the website notes. While the 1-2 feet of snow the region got over the past week is great for the forest trails, it could be dangerously deceptive on the lakes by giving riders the false impression that the ice underneath is safe. But with the mild weather we received through much of January, the ice never had a chance to thicken up enough.

With that in mind here are some important tips from Snowtracks.com:

Wherever possible, avoid riding on frozen lakes and rivers because ice conditions are never guaranteed. If you must cross ice, stay on the packed or marked trail. Don't stop until you reach shore. If you hit slush, don't let off the throttle. If you are following someone who hits slush, veer off to make your own path. If you must travel over lakes and rivers then consider using a buoyant snowmobile suit which will help you reach the closest ice surface. Also consider carrying a set of picks that will help you grip the edge of the ice more easily. As a rule of thumb, "If you don't know, don't go."


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